Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MAKE OR BREAK TIME FOR SOX

The upcoming five-game series against the Yankees could well define the Red Sox season. Undoubtedly, it will be a statement series for both clubs, with each trying to make the point that they are the elite in the East and the team to beat down the stretch. Either could be in first place when it's all said and done and, beyond the standings, the game could have a psychological impact as well. With only two games separating the clubs as they begin their duel, it could hardly be more fascinating.

The Sox are just 6-9 in August and need to turn things around in a hurry. Pitching has been their Achilles heel, and it's time for everyone to step up. Red Sox starters have gone seven innings just four times in the last 24 games (since July 21 in Seattle), and three of those games have been Curt Schilling starts. David Wells had the other.

Both teams have suffered through inconsistent pitching this season, and there will be some interesting match ups at Fenway in the coming days.

Jason Johnson (3-11, 6.26) will have his hands full in the first game of tomorrow's double-header against Chen Mieng Wang (13-8, 3.24). Johnson is still without a win in a Boston uniform and has not won a start since May 28. Advantage: Yankees.

In the second game, rookie Jon Lester (6-2, 4.09) will take on the lackluster Sidney Ponson (4-5, 5.82) who was replaced in the Yankee rotation by Cory Lidle after just two starts in which he posted an ERA of 10.00. Lester has had difficulty pitching beyond the fifth inning in his starts and will be fired up and out to prove himself. Advantage: Red Sox

On Saturday, the struggling Josh Beckett (13-7, 5.02) will take on the unpredictable Randy Johnson (13-9, 4.92). Beckett, who hasn't won since July 24 and hasn't pitched more than six innings in his last five starts, is 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA against the Yankees this year. At this point, who knows what to expect from either pitcher, but it should be an interesting match up nonetheless. Advantage: Toss up

Sunday will provide the marquee match up as Sox ace Curt Schilling (14-5, 3.83) squares off against Yankee ace Mike Mussina (13-5, 3.54), who is 2-0 with a 4.97 ERA against the Red Sox this season. This game could be a pitching duel, and Schilling will be fired up at Fenway in front of the home crowd. Advantage: Slight edge to Schilling

In the final game of the five-game series, David Wells (2-2, 6.06) faces off against the newest Yankee pitcher, Cory Lidle (9-9, 4.64), in what should be another interesting match up. Wells is a proven big game pitcher, and this game has the makings of being a critical contest. Though he's surrendered 8-10 hits in each of his last four starts, Wells has limited the damage on the scoreboard, where it counts. While Lidle is 2-2 with a 6.58 ERA against the Red Sox in his career, Wells is 19-10 with a 3.11 ERA all-time against his former team. Advantage: Wells

The day after the Yankees series concludes, the Sox immediately begin a three-city West Coast swing that will cover nine consecutive games in Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland. Then the Sox return to Fenway, without a day off, to begin a seven game homestand against Toronto and Chicago.

The Sox had better be ready because they are about face an arduous stretch in which they'll play 21 games in just 20 days, an exhausting run that will likely determine their playoff fate.

For the time being, at least, the Sox will remain without the services of Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Tim Wakefield, the three seasoned veterans remaining from the club's last five postseason teams, dating back to 1998. The rest of the team will have to find a way to win without them for as long as necessary.

The acquisitions of left-handed hitters Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena may help, but neither appears to be what he once was. However, the Sox don't need additional stars, they need contributors -- players who can deliver key hits in the clutch.

Whether either Hinske or Pena still has that capacity remains to be seen, but right now they're the best the Sox can do in a very thin waiver market.

Hold on tight. This is going to be a crazy ride over the next three weeks, and we're about to find out just what the Red Sox are really made of.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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